Priest Admits 1970s Abuse at Gormanston
Judge to Consider Victim Impact Reports Prior to Sentencing
July 5, 2006
A Former spiritual director and bursar of Gormanston College was remanded on bail for sentence last week at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, where he pleaded guilty to six sample charges of indecent assault on boys at the school between 1974 and 1981.
Fr Ronald Bennett (71), with an address at Dun Mhuire, Seafield Road, Killiney, Co Dublin, had been sports master at the east Meath boarding school at that time.
Niall Muldoon, senior clinical psychologist at the Granada Institute, told the court that the defendant had undergone "considerable therapy" there over the past seven years. He was categorised at the lowest level of a re-offending risk.
Witness added that the defendant was "ill-equipped for the position of spiritual director" when appointed in 1963. In dealing with sex education matters, the defendant was unable to distinguish between the boundaries in relation to his own sexuality.
Fr Bennett had grown up as an only child in a very sheltered atmosphere and was very immature regarding sexual matters when sent to secondary school, before joining the Franciscan Order, the court was told.
Niall Muldoon added that the priest would consider himself to be "a very upright man" and did not see any consequences arising from his abuse of victims. But when he read in the 1980s of the damage done by this activity, he became "very much aware" of the harm he had done and was remorseful.
Garda Sergeant Margaret Murrell told the court that an investigation was launched in 1999 after a victim complained of being sexually molested in the secondary school while a border in 1974. Fr Bennett's duties as spiritual director included organising teams of altar boys.
The investigation revealed that the victim had been abused more than the other victims referred to in the charges. That abuse began when Fr Bennett began touching them outside their clothes, culminating in the abuse taking place - in some cases with both parties totally naked. All the victims were teenagers, and involved three boarders and one day pupil.
The day pupil thought at the time that the activity might be "okay" since the priest was a "person in authority and it concerned sex education." When arrested, the priest accepted that there was substance in the allegations, but claimed not to recall all the details in relation to one victim.
Significant compensation had been paid to the victims, added Sgt Murrell. The defendant's guilty plea was a great help and relief to the victims also and the priest had expressed remorse from the time he had been arrested.
There had been no allegations made after 1981, the court was told.
Fr Pádraig Loman Mac Aodha, director of the Franciscan house in Dublin where the defendant now lives, said that Fr Bennett resided under "very stringent" conditions. He had been involved for the past eight years in secretarial and administrative duties only, and had no contact with children.
The priest's faculties for hearing Confessions and saying Mass publicly also had been withdrawn and he had to seek permission to leave the house.
The defendant had "become more aware of the meaning and effect of his offending and is more remorseful," added Fr Mac Aodha.
Judge Desmond Hogan said that, having regard to the extremely serious offences, he wanted time to have "serious regard to the victim impact statements and the consequences which have been suffered by the young men" before proceeding to sentence.
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